Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York

Article excerpt

DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York, by David I. Spanagel. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. xii, 270 pp. $54.95 US (cloth).

He got it all wrong. He traveled up and down and across New York State meticulously noting a host of geological features, creating wonderful maps, taking detailed notes, and he still got it wrong. As Amos Eaton surveyed the Empire State during the construction of the Erie Canal, he thought he understood the processes that shaped the gorges, lakes, waterfalls, and strata that make New York a showcase of geologic splendour. He was certain that the great Biblical flood was responsible for depositing boulders, serrating the landscape, and carving the pathway that the canal's engineers followed in order to connect the majestic Hudson River to the vast expanses of the American interior via the Great Lakes. Wedded to the idea that God had created a great inundation, Eaton could not see the bigger picture nor comprehend the eons it took to create and mold the earth as he knew it. If Eaton was such a flawed scientist, why should anyone write a book about him?

The answer lies in the pages of David I. Spanagel's DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton: Geology and Power in Early New York. Despite the title, and the second billing, the book is really about Eaton, who was involved in the founding of the Rensselaer School, and who demonstrated the importance of the relationship between the state and science, and economic development during a crucial era in the expansion of American capitalism. Eaton was an improbable scientist. He began his adult life as a lawyer who was himself convicted of forgery and sent to prison in New York. …

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